In the National Gallery in London is an unfinished painting showing Christ being carried to his tomb.

Michelangelo did not finish the painting which he called The Entombment”. This makes me feel so much better when I look at my painting of the herd of Alaskan moose who will be forever marching through the snow going who knows where. In my case, it’s a case of procrastination; Michelangelo, on the other hand, couldn’t afford the paint.

Though the rest of the work looks nearly finished, or at least drawn in, the large blank space in the right hand corner has not even been started. It was probably meant to be reserved for the Virgin Mary in her blue robe, but the twenty-five year old Michelangelo couldn’t afford the ultramarine blue it deserved. He must have cursed for awhile and wrung his hands while waiting for his patron to send the money or the paint. But in 1501 Michelangelo left both Rome and that canvas to carve his David in Florence, and he never returned with the blue paint to finish the Virgin’s robe.

Ultramarine, coming from mines in Afghanistan and other exotic places, is made from ground lapis lazuli, then mixed with oils, wax, or other carriers, so understandably, it is not a paint an ordinary dabbler like me would use a lot of. In 1824 a reward of a thousand francs was offered to someone who could come up with an alternative to the color. A Frenchman named Guimet won the prize for “French Ultramarine”, which to the untrained eye is a good substitute.


Vermeer was less parsimonious in his use of the color, and proceeded to put his family in debt.

johannes_vermeer_-_girl_with_a_pearl_earring_-_wga24666Girl With a Pearl Earring Vermeer

Ultramarine is a word that has always seemed to me to taste of the ocean. It has a smooth, salty sound, suggesting a bluer blue than even the Mediterranean can reflect on a sunny morning. Think of the Greek Islands in the sunshine.

We think of the sky as being blue, yet there are more tints and shades of blue than could be used in a lifetime. The sky can be azure, cobalt, cerulean, or a hundred other tints. The bluebells of Scotland once seen, remain to be captured in memory again and again.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

16 thoughts on “ON BEING BLUE”

  1. Nature makes it hard to identify color. One would say clouds are white — but that’s hardly true. We go to Scotland a lot, and I’m always fascinated with how quickly the sky changes — usually according to the color of the sea. Greens are deceptive too. No color in a child’s crayon box even comes close to the color of grass, or most trees. You’d need a whole box of just greens for a proper landscape to be achieved!


    1. Very true Val. A painter uses many layers to achieve what Nature does. In the case of ultramarine blue, there are many minerals in it which give off light. How lucky you are to visit Scotland often. It is one of my favorite places too. I love the wild north islands and the moors.


    1. Thanks so much for sending “Blue Poles”. It really is a tremendous piece. It must be overwhelming to have two large pieces of Pollock’s in the same room!
      I often made quick sketches using only French ultramarine and burnt umber. A nice separating medium.


  2. Another masterpiece Kaytie.
    The ability to see and describe the intricate relationship among shades of color, seems to me to be the same skill a philosopher has to provide a matrix or imperatives through which we can better understand our very existence, and achievements.

    I, too, have many unfinished endeavors, but would to think that I had a good explanation like Michael A. Either I was, in fact, unable to finish or perhaps underwrite some of them, or I moved to another challenge like sculpting a David. I’d like to think when each of us finish our Davids, the undone projects in our past will be seen to have facilitated and made possible each of our individual magnificent sculptures in the end.

    To be honest, the undone may represent procrastination in my case. But If Michaelangelo left a few undone projects to our imagination and speculation, I’m just going to claim that I did the same!! After all , just being stimulated by this beautiful piece, and having this moment of self reflection is rich and valuable. Thanks to you.

    Sorry, gotta go. I just thought of a couple of things I have to do!!!





    1. Steve I think you have identified something very important; that we each have a “David” in our lives; a high point or achievement toward which we have aspired. Perhaps the steps we have taken and discarded lead up to perfection. But was “David” perfect? I don’t think so. He was undertaking the impossible with only a slingshot. We never know the outcome of our actions, but the important thing is to try.


    1. As an artist, you see the wonderful combination of blue with the flowers in the garden. Blue seems to brighten everything else. It’s hard for us to imagine how much paint the old Masters must have used to paint such large pieces, plus waiting for their patrons to supply them with it. Must have been frustrating.


  3. The first time I experienced an abundance of blue was in the Caribbean, and it was the water rather than the sky that shimmered with the various shades. All of the names you mentioned can apply to water, too, shading even into greens from time to time.

    I don’t know a thing about paints, or their qualities or cost, but I do remember Lisa (Z) yearning for a certain color she couldn’t get in Ecuador, either because of expense or simple availability. I don’t know if she ever found it, but she certainly would understand Michaelangelo’s frustration.

    Blue and yellow is one of my favorite combinations. I painted part of my bathroom yellow, to complement my little flow blue china collection. I like the turquoise and adobe of New Mexico — in fact, I like almost any blue and brown combination — but too much blue-on-blue, and I start getting a little claustrophobic. Strange.


    1. Maybe that’s why we “get the blues” (sorry!) But I know what you mean. For many years I didn’t use color on my sculptures. I liked the natural look of the clay. There are so many types of clay coming from so many places. With oxides and minerals within them, and when they melt, wow! It is a shame sometimes to hide them. I thought of myself as a sculptor, not a painter. Of course, with pots it is different, then we get into a whole other element. Pure minerals out of the earth melted in the kiln give you another reason to be thrilled and excited.


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